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ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trail

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ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trail

Postby frozenintime » Tue Aug 18, 2015 8:22 pm

hey all

my wife and i are doing the high sierra trail (w/ a side trip up mount kaweah) in the teens of september.
we'll probably take 8 days - and we are very excited.

there is much left to research about the trail and our trip, but one thing i keep wondering and am having a hard time wrapping my head around is:
where are the best campsites along (or just off) the high sierra trail that we might be alone, or close to it?

bonus points, of course, if they are breathtaking and near water!

we are social and love to meet people, but we do tend to head out to places like this to be together and have some silence and solitude in nature.

there are certain popular spots like precipice lake that seem too special not to camp at, but i'd be so thankful for some ideas on alternatives to the rest of the herd campsites.

any ideas?

perhaps this late in the season (mid september) the crowds may have thinned out and this will be less of an issue. just thought i'd ask you experts!

thanks so much.



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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby rayfound » Tue Aug 18, 2015 8:30 pm

I mean, I can't speak for your specific route, but I've never had difficulty finding solitude in the wilderness areas. The further you go off trail, the more likely you'll see no one.
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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby rlown » Tue Aug 18, 2015 8:37 pm

Welcome to the forum, Frozen! An intro would be nice as well viewtopic.php?f=1&t=4205

Kids are back in school, so it's a great time! :)

What places have you already thought about?
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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby astrogerly » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:24 am

As mentioned, definitely go a bit off the trail if you want solitude. The other half and I did it in the teens/twenties of September four years ago and it was still very popular that "late" in the season. I can only imagine it's been getting more popular, so... just wander a bit away from the main places (or avoid camping near them at all) and you should be good if you want solitude!
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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby frozenintime » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:31 am

What level of backpacking experience do you have?
-- somewhere between level 2 & 3

What terrain are you comfortable/uncomfortable with?
-- class 1 & 2

What is your main interest?
-- forests, scenery, fun & quiet :)

How many days/nights is your trip, not including travel to trailhead?
-- 7 or 8 nights - still firming up

How many miles did you want to do a day, any layovers?
we are in decent shape and like pushing ourselves to an extent.
as an east coaster with no west coast mountain experience, though, i'm hesitant to say with certainty what our mileage would be. we'd have to average 8-10 a day or so to finish, so something around that :)
(we've hiked utah around 9,000 ft, though obviously a much different climate otherwise!)

my original question may have been an east coast one to begin with - the forest is so dense over here that often it's hard to find camping spots away from established sites. perhaps it's much easier to find spots in the sierra's.

maybe the better way to look at it is where NOT to camp - sounds like bearpaw, kern hot springs and guitar lake can be very crowded campsites.

anyway, thanks for your time.
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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby AlmostThere » Wed Aug 19, 2015 7:28 am

There are established sites along the way - Buck Creek, Mehrten Creek, Bearpaw has a backpacker campground - and for this stretch of trail until you get to the junction before the ascent to Hamilton Lake, those are the places you are allowed to camp, as well as the best places to camp. Restrictions exist in national parks on routes that are exceedingly popular, to control impact on the wilderness -- in some areas, they really do not want thousands of campsites hacked into the landscape, so require all campers to stay in designated sites. Hamilton Lake has a campground and a privy, as well as bear lockers. And, it has deer that love salt so much that they will eat clothing, pack straps, etc that are left unattended.

Beyond Hamilton Lake, it's a matter of finding places on your own, until you get to Crabtree Meadows where again there is a designated area if camping right at the meadow. You can go over to Crabtree Lakes, up to Guitar Lake, or offtrail in some other direction to avoid that area.

In all cases, it's expected to either be in a well used site (some places in parks actually ignore Leave No Trace and require you to use already-impacted sites to concentrate impact) or to be 100 - 200 feet from water or the trail. For the entire list of LNT check out lnt.org - there are areas where you'll be expected to increase distances for catholes, not have campfires at all (elevation restrictions are in place always; other places there are seasonal or situational bans, like right now, with the drought, plenty of regions in California have total bans -- no fires, no stoves, no cigarettes, etc).

There is an excellent wilderness planner on the SEKI website that has all of Sequoia's regulations concerning fires, fishing, where to camp, etc -- it's a PDF on their wilderness page. That should be your first stop for the complete rundown of how it works. Generally, the more popular the place, the more restrictions -- the High Sierra Trail is one of those popular places, the John Muir Trail even more so.

One of the better ways to avoid other people is to go in shoulder seasons (fall after school starts and before snow starts to fall and roads are closing - take snow cables or chains that you know how to put on the car with you) or to bring sufficient water storage to tank up and keep hiking until you find a spot to dry camp. Everyone else takes the easy sites near the water sources. Dry camping can mean more hiking than maybe you want to do, however, as in some areas there are sections of trail that hang on cliff faces or steep slopes (cf: most of the High Sierra Trail from Giant Forest to Buck Creek, sections of trail such as between Hamilton and Precipice Lakes) so some thought to the amount of water you need, the amount of hiking you can do, the distance to the next water and the likelihood of spaces to put a tent is helpful.

There are about a square bazillion illegal campsites and fire rings out there. Dispersal camping ala LNT is better. Don't forget extra heavy duty ziplocs to pack out used toilet paper (pretty please? it's park rules, but so few actually do it).
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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby balzaccom » Wed Aug 19, 2015 8:20 am

Nicely done. AT. Very good answer---all the to the end. Or is it the bottom?
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check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby frozenintime » Wed Aug 19, 2015 9:54 am

almostthere, thank you *so* much for your breakdown.

we are absolutely LNT types and pack out everything.

somehow i missed that SEKI planner - i'll google it now.
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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Aug 19, 2015 9:59 am

At the Kern Hot Springs, the established campsites are just north of the actual springs. They are actually quite nice. You could instead camp at the bridge, just south of the springs (about a 5 minute walk), and then go up to the springs if you want to soak. The camping at the bridge is more "rugged" (it is actually a flood plain, quite sandy and quite a bit of debris) and less shade, but you would get more solitude. The fishing near the bridge is quite good. Or just pass the springs (or take a mid-day soak) and continue up towards Junction Meadow. There are a few campsites before you get to the more popular established campsite at the Junction (where there are bear boxes).

Camping away from the established sites with bear boxes requires that you get EVERYTHIING smelly inside a bear can. Eight days for two people means two bear cans. The reason a lot of people use the established camps is because of the bear boxes. I think you still have to carry a bear can, but maybe not two. You need to check with the rangers about that. In the past (but I think not now) you could simply use the bear boxes and not bring a can if you camped at all established sites.

Hamilton Lake is really impacted. It can be quite nice if few people but can get really crowded. One way to check is to ask the rangers when you get your permit, how many people say they are going to camp there when/if you do. Not that everyone follows their plan but it will give you an idea. There are about 4-5 small marginal established sites at Precipice Lake. There are also a few sites at the lake that is about 500 feet elevation below Precipice Lake.

Moraine Lake is really low due to the drought and the water in the lake is quite yucky. You really need to filter as well as treat the water. However there are lots of really nice campsites. It may be a better plan to camp at the Five Lakes trail junction where there is good water ( some really cool spots on the creek where it goes over big granite slabs- about 1/8 mile off the trail). Then next day go to the Kern River.

If you are taking 8 days, you may want to go up Wallace Creek to Wallace Lake and camp. There is a use-trail (hard to find but once on it not bad). It is about 2 hours to get to the lake from the PCT. The solitude and scenery at Wallace Lake is worth the effort.

Instead of Guitar Lake, you can also go up to Arctic Lake. It is a 700-foot elevation gain but the scenery is fabulous. Or drop down to Hitchcock Lakes from BM 7593 (about 0.7 miles and 250-300 feet extra elevation loss/gain).
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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby frozenintime » Wed Aug 19, 2015 10:50 am

thanks so much for your suggestions, w.daisy :)
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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Aug 19, 2015 3:05 pm

By the way, I believe the bridge is NOT located where shown on the USGS topo map. It is about 0.3 miles south of the hot springs. I do not know the history- probably the old bridge washed out at some time. All the creeks shown on the map up on Chagoopa Plateau will likely be dry. They had a little water running when I was there in July.
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Re: ideas for solitude / quiet campsites on high sierra trai

Postby maverick » Wed Aug 19, 2015 4:10 pm

Consider Nine Lakes Basin too, very pretty, especially if you take the time to visit the lakes up on the benches. You should have considerably less people after Labor Day, even on such a heavily used trail as the HST.

If you do have time to visit Wales Lake, please do, will be one of the highlights of your trip. :nod:

Try to get through the Chagoopa Plateau as early in the day as possible, and if your not planning going to visit Moraine swamp, you need to load up on water at the last reliable source, which may be the Big Arroyo in Sept.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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